I saw this movie the day after its release, and now, over 24 hours later, I find myself still struggling with how best to review this. Let me start out by saying I did not like it. But I did not hate it either. Now, I’m not a “Biblical Scholar” by any means, but when it comes to reading the Bible from cover to cover (I’ve done it) and when it comes to different cinematic versions of the story of Jesus Christ, I feel quite comfortable in saying I’ve seen quite a few (a list can be found at the bottom).
I first had to ask myself if it’s fair to compare this movie to any of the ones that have come before it? Probably not. But when it comes to a movie that’s been done more than a dozen times, how could I not?
With that said, if you’ve seen The Bible 5 part (10 hour) mini series that aired on The History Channel, seeing this movie will feel like deja-vu and you’d be partly correct. Turns out that this movie uses the same cast and is basically Parts III through V of the series, condensed. After doing some further research I discovered Roma Downey and her husband mixed elements of the series with “new” footage for this movie. But, if you were like me and could only make it through the first 4 hours of their series then you didn’t know, for sure, until you got home and did research, that this all seemed familiar.
So basically I paid for a movie that I could have seen for free on The History Channel, if I cared to continue watching the series when it premiered this time last year? Was I gypped? The verdict is still out on that one.
Onto the story itself. I would love to know which New Testament (The Gospel according to John specifically) was consulted when telling the story of the Son of God? Because in the various versions of the New Testament that I’ve read, there are a few things that seemed just not right in this movie. For starters, Joseph, husband to Mary, the mother of Jesus, whom we only see for a few seconds in the beginning of the film looks like he could be Mary’s brother! Now, Joseph, if you didn’t already know, is MUCH, MUCH older than Mary. In fact, he’s a widower. So while she WAS a teenager, by our standards, Joseph should have at least looked like he is twice her age if not more so. What also bothered me about that “baby in a manger” scene was the fact that Joseph and Mary looked like they hopped out of a shower and went right to film. How was Joseph clean and with NO hair on his face? He actually looked like he might have had a visit to the barber recently. Just doesn’t make any sense especially with Roma Downey making this statement about how she wanted this movie to be perceived. “We’ve seen enough of those movies as kids — the ‘donkeys and sandals’ movies — that we wanted to create a cast of characters that felt gritty, realistic and authentic, and didn’t look like they’d just stepped out of the dry cleaners.” Historically, the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem (where Joseph and Mary were headed) was a long one. When they stopped at the Inn they would have looked exhausted, dirty, and Joseph would have had quite a 5 o’clock shadow on him. He would not have looked like he was just about to hit puberty! Moving on…
Herod seems to not have been an important person to even mention in this movie, which I found odd. But even more odd was that the story of the Son of God deemed it unnecessary to include the Devil (who tempts Jesus several times in his journey) or God (who, when He speaks to His son, it is very significant). I don’t know about you, but whoever made that choice, I hope it was not to appease critics? Something tells me a lot of the missteps here was to do just that.
Another point in the movie that bothered me, was when Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount. I asked earlier what version was consulted when filming this movie because I found it odd when Jesus was telling his followers how to pray, the words he said: Our Father who is in Heaven…
Uhm, what?! I’m not sure how historically accurate this movie was meant to be, but right away the language was incorrect. Some words, I feel, especially when coming from the Bible, you just don’t change. The Lords Prayer is one of them. Why couldn’t they have said: Our Father who art in Heaven…
Honestly, I could go on and on with what I found wrong and what I didn’t like but there is a place for this movie in the library of many movies depicting the life of Jesus Christ. If you’ve seen Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ and found it a bit too harsh to sit through, then this movie is perfect for you. My first thought, when it came to the scene of the 40 lashes, was that this movie is “Passion of the Christ Lite”. There is very little blood and the scenes that should have at least made you understand what Jesus went through when he was violently beaten to near death, were actually easy to watch and easy to sit through. Perhaps it’s from all the violence I’ve seen in movies and television shows all my life? I don’t think so. I say this because after watching Passion of the Christ, which in my humble opinion, is the best true-to-life telling of the story of Jesus right before he was crucified, I can still feel the pain in my chest from that movie, a decade later. A movie is supposed to make you feel something, and a great telling of a story like that of Jesus, definitely should. Otherwise, it falls short of its purpose. Which if anything, is to make you aware of the sacrifice that was made and why it had to be made. All this movie made me aware of was its lack of consideration for the key moments referenced in The Gospel about the life of Jesus.
At the end of the day Jesus was just a man, but he was extraordinary because he endured a wrath from the Romans and his own people that should have killed him but it didn’t. We forget who he was, what he did, and that he died for us. It’s good to be reminded of his sacrifice, especially if you don’t go to church every Sunday. Roma and her husband had a chance to place their movie among the countless other great Jesus movies, and perhaps critics who are more knowledgeable than myself will do just that. I, on the other hand, don’t feel so compelled.
And as promised earlier, here are the movies on the life of Jesus I’ve seen and would recommend to anyone who loves the telling of it and epic movies, as I do: (in order of favorites)
Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)
King of Kings (1961)
Jesus Christ Superstar (2001)
Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
The Robe (1953)
Passion of the Christ (2004)
Honorable Mention: Ben-Hur (1959)